Passing on Some Good Advice: On Building and Living in a Cohousing Community
In Act II of An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde, there is a line that states “The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.” Wilde is being snarky, yet there is a certain truth to what he wrote as it relates to the work I’ve recently been doing. As part of my doctoral research I spoke with people in cohousing communities across Canada. I had long conversations with almost 100 people from various completed communities — some recently completed, some that have been occupied for 20 years or so. Some elements of these conversations are unrelated to my thesis and yet were important to organize and put out in the world. This is what I want to share here. After all, hoarding these hard-won suggestions would defeat the ultimate purpose of my work.
Most of the communities I visited play an active role in encouraging the development of more cohousing communities — by offering tours and talking about their experiences to forming groups. Some of their common houses are offered to forming communities as a place to meet, plan, and undertake the development of new projects. Unfortunately, not all forming communities are close to existing communities and for this reason I wanted to make this information more widely available.
The advice that follows is largely unfiltered. I start with an assumption that the reader knows what cohousing is. However, here is a link to a short backgrounder, if you need one (I would even suggest that you take a look at this backgrounder, just to be sure we are all on the same page as there are a lot of misconceptions).
I have, in some instances taken the time to pair some research to further ground the considerations that are being made here. That said, these bits of advice come from the lived experiences of people who at the time of their interviews lived in a cohousing community in Canada. I have organized the information in terms of when in the life of a community this advice might be most practical for the reader to consider. With this in mind, a project is “forming” when a group has the intention to develop a community, but a particular project is not yet underway. That is, some forming groups have identified potential sites, but have yet to buy land as as a group. A group is “in development” once they have secured land that is suitable for development and are investing substantial capital into the execution of a project. “Design considerations” are of particular importance to communities in development, but may also be of interest to design professionals looking to assist cohousing communities. Advice for those “in community” are most relevant for anyone who plans to live in community, either if you develop it yourself, or plan to join an established community as a renter or homeowner. Some of this advice will be useful at all stages.
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